Americans spend $28 billion on multivitamins per year, but are consumers throwing away their money? According to a recent editorial in The Annals of Internal Medicine, multivitamins are not only a waste of money, but some vitamins may even be harmful. Johns Hopkins researchers Edgar Miller, M.D. and Lawrence Appel, M.D. and their coauthors analysed new evidence that found daily multivitamins were ineffective at preventing cancer, heart disease and dementia. These results, in the context of prior studies which showed that supplemental beta-carotene and high dose vitamin E supplements could actually be harmful, provided the evidence base for their editorial.
“Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided,” said Dr. Appel and his co-authors. “There’s really no evidence of benefit, and there is evidence of harm. Our recommendation is don’t waste your money,” Dr. Miller said.
Still ‘B’ Good to Your Baby To Be
Folic acid (a B vitamin) was the only vitamin or mineral deemed unconditionally beneficial, at least for women of childbearing age. Folic acid is widely used by women of childbearing age to prevent birth defects.
More Harm Than Good?
“There used to be this belief that they might not be beneficial, but they’re certainly not harmful. Well that idea has been dispelled,” Dr. Appel said. Some of the studies they looked at found that vitamin E could be dangerous in large doses and that beta-carotene could actually increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
While vitamin deficiency is a major source of preventable disease in certain parts of the world, the authors focused on normal, healthy adults in the U.S., where there is little evidence of micronutrient deficiency. The doctors noted that people with celiac disease or other health problems that interfere with absorption of micronutrients can benefit from multivitamin use.
Eat for Health
Dr. Miller says the money spent on supplements would be better spent on nutritious food: “Stop wasting your money means that perhaps you’re spending money on things that won’t protect you long term. What will protect you is if you spend the money on fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, low fat dairy, things like that…exercising would probably be a better use of the money.”
(Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Annals of Internal Medicine)